Another week, another littering incident. It’s a good job the camera just catches images, not sound, given what I was muttering when we found this lot of building, and, bizarrely, catering waste. Unfortunately there weren’t any receipts in it with ID or we could have found out who was responsible and called the police. However, it’s cleared up and in the skip now. Many thanks to volunteer Mary for her help with a mucky job that we should never have to do.
At least we have the plants and wildlife to cheer us up! The mostly fine weather has brought the visitors out in droves but has also brought on the spring flowers. The first ones, the celandines, are starting to fade now but the wood anemones are at their best. The violets have just come out too and we saw the first primroses and false oxlips this week.
The blackthorn is also on the verge of bursting too, its blossom comes out before the leaves so the bushes look white. Also known as “sloe bushes” their fruit can be used to make sloe gin in autumn and the wood is often used for walking sticks.
We were also lucky enough to witness adders both mating and wrestling in the famous “dance of the adders”. The adders were everywhere and very active in the sun on Tuesday. We spotted a mating pair in the bracken and snuck closer for a look, then realised we were surrounded! I’m not a big fan of naming animals, but we had to give them individual identifiers to keep track! There were the mating pair “Cassanova” and “Herself”, then “Big Blue” (the very large male), “Brown Boy” (the brown adder in the last blog), “Pile of Poo” (a female we initially misidentified as something else) and, finally, “The Interloper”.
Adder mating is a slow process. The male moves over her body (she’s usually much bigger than him) and flickers his tongue over her scales to encourage her to mate. You can actually see this pair are joined here, by the males “hemipenis”. Male adders have a double sexual organ and use these alternately in mating and it’s barbed to help them stay joined to the female. The longer they stay joined (up to 2 hours in adders), the greater the chance is that he’ll be the father of any young.
Of course, the down side of being locked together is, what do you do if a much bigger male turns up? Behave passively and hope he goes away, seems to be the answer! The large male, Big Blue, found the mating pair and was obviously very interested in the female, and the poor Cassanova was stuck. There isn’t much loyalty among snakes and she headed off into the bracken with “Big Blue”, dragging her erstwhile suitor backwards behind her! He eventually broke free and headed off quickly.
Just with that, “The Interloper” turned up. He was a bit larger than Cassanova and he and clearly fancied his chances of pushing Big Blue off the female. That’s when adders dance- when two fairly evenly matched males need to sort out who’s boss. The entwine their bodies and wrestle, rearing nearly a foot off the ground. It’s graceful, with the initial sizing up and entwining of bodies, then almost unbelievably fast and powerful as they bring a burst of strength to bear.
The dance of the adders is definitely one of the best wildlife spectacles I’ve ever seen, so why not head into the countryside and see if you can see it for yourself? Even if you’re not that lucky, the wild flowers are lovely just now…and are a lot easier to spot!